Madame de Fleury, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 7.

“Alas! regardless of their doom,

The little victims play:

No sense have they of ills to come,

No care beyond to-day.”— GRAY.

Good legislators always attend to the habits, and what is called the genius, of the people they have to govern. From youth to age, the taste for whatever is called une fête pervades the whole French nation. Mad. de Fleury availed herself judiciously of this powerful motive, and connected it with the feelings of affection more than with the passion for show. For instance, when any of her little people had done any thing particularly worthy of reward, she gave them leave to invite their parents to a fête prepared for them by their children, assisted by the kindness of Sister Frances.

One day — it was a holiday obtained by Victoire’s good conduct — all the children prepared in their garden a little feast for their parents. Sister Frances spread the table with a bountiful hand, the happy fathers and mothers were waited upon by their children, and each in their turn heard with delight from the benevolent nun some instance of their daughter’s improvement. Full of hope for the future, and of gratitude for the past, these honest people ate and talked, whilst in imagination they saw their children all prosperously and usefully settled in the world. They blessed Mad. de Fleury in her absence, and they wished ardently for her presence.

“The sun is setting, and Mad. de Fleury is not yet come,” cried Victoire; “she said she would be here this evening — What can be the matter?”

“Nothing is the matter, you may be sure,” said Babet; “but that she has forgotten us — she has so many things to think of.”

“Yes; but I know she never forgets us,” said Victoire; “and she loves so much to see us all happy together, that I am sure it must be something very extraordinary that detains her.”

Babet laughed at Victoire’s fears: but presently even she began to grow impatient; for they waited long after sunset, expecting every moment that Mad. de Fleury would arrive. At last she appeared, but with a dejected countenance, which seemed to justify Victoire’s foreboding. When she saw this festive company, each child sitting between her parents, and all at her entrance looking up with affectionate pleasure, a faint smile enlivened her countenance for a moment; but she did not speak to them with her usual ease. Her mind seemed pre-occupied by some disagreeable business of importance. It appeared that it had some connexion with them; for as she walked round the table with Sister Frances, she said with a voice and look of great tenderness, “Poor children! how happy they are at this moment! — Heaven only knows how soon they may be rendered, or may render themselves, miserable!”

None of the children could imagine what this meant; but their parents guessed that it had some allusion to the state of public affairs. About this time some of those discontents had broken out, which preceded the terrible days of the Revolution. As yet, most of the common people, who were honestly employed in earning their own living, neither understood what was going on, nor foresaw what was to happen. Many of their superiors were not in such happy ignorance — they had information of the intrigues that were forming; and the more penetration they possessed, the more they feared the consequences of events which they could not control. At the house of a great man, with whom she had dined this day, Mad. de Fleury had heard alarming news. Dreadful public disturbances, she saw, were inevitable; and whilst she trembled for the fate of all who were dear to her, these poor children had a share in her anxiety. She foresaw the temptations, the dangers, to which they must be exposed, whether they abandoned, or whether they abided by, the principles their education had instilled. She feared that the labour of years would perhaps be lost in an instant, or that her innocent pupils would fall victims even to their virtues.

Many of these young people were now of an age to understand and to govern themselves by reason; and with these she determined to use those preventive measures which reason affords. Without meddling with politics, in which no amiable or sensible woman can wish to interfere, the influence of ladies in the higher ranks of life may always be exerted with perfect propriety, and with essential advantage to the public, in conciliating the inferior classes of society, explaining to them their duties and their interests, and impressing upon the minds of the children of the poor, sentiments of just subordination and honest independence. How happy would it have been for France, if women of fortune and abilities had always exerted their talents and activity in this manner, instead of wasting their powers in futile declamations, or in the intrigues of party!

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 13:58